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Lord Tope: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 57, which is grouped with the amendments tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. In doing so, perhaps I may say that I agree with all that the noble Lord said. This is not the stage at which we argue whose amendment is best. I believe that we are trying to achieve the same objective. Amendment No. 57 encapsulates all that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, is trying to achieve, although it goes a little further in tackling all areas of discrimination.
I know that the wording of Amendment No. 57 will be very familiar to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, to the Minister and, indeed, to all of us who spent many happy hours working on the GLA Bill, as it was at that stage. We debated this issue at every stage of the legislation and made a little progress each time until we reached the Third Reading when the Minister said:
For all the reasons outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, it is important to have a duty imposed on all local authorities similar to one imposed on the GLA. Amendment No. 57 suggests that it should be a duty of all local authorities to have due regard to the principle of equality of opportunity for all people. It requires each local authority to have regard to the need,
As we debated this issue so many times and with such eventual success only a few months ago, I am confident in speaking to the amendment now--and as I shall be when moving it at the appropriate time--that the Minister will feel able to accept it. Indeed, he may recognise the wording, as he proposed some of it himself. If that is rushing things a little too much and if the Government do not feel at this stage that they
When the Bill leaves this Chamber it needs to contain a proper, wide-ranging equalities clause. I suggest that this is the clause, borrowing as it does from a duty already imposed on one authority. I trust that the Minister will respond positively to the intentions behind this group of amendments.
Baroness Hanham: Perhaps I may declare my interest at this stage as I am a member of a local authority. In case I happen to intervene on a few more occasions, I ask that that be recorded and noted for the rest of the proceedings on the Bill.
Basically, I wish to comment on the amendments that include reference to annual reports. Local authorities are falling under the weight of having to make reports. Therefore, can I ask that this is not made a specific issue. Perhaps something can be included in the annual reports that already have to be produced. But, please, let us not have another one.
Lord Whitty: I recognise many of the arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and my noble friend Lord Harris have advanced. Although I accept that it is important that the power of well-being and the rest of the reform of local authorities encapsulated in the Bill should clearly have regard to equalities and to the effect on race relations within the authority, I am not sure that any of the amendments in this group sets out the appropriate way forward.
I am not sure that we should directly link the question of the promotion of race relations and equality to the physical exercise of the power of well-being, as suggested by Amendments Nos. 13 and 33. Moreover, Amendment No. 57 replicates in part Section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976. However, it only does so in part and, therefore, there is an ambiguity as to how it applies to local authorities compared with other public authorities. Again, that is a discussion that we had in the GLA context.
As certain Members of the Committee, I expect, are aware, the Government will be publishing a consultation paper within the next few months, which will look at equality issues. That paper will discuss placing a general duty of equality on all public sector organisations. Therefore, it is difficult for me to agree to an amendment to the Bill inserting a form of words relating to equality that might well be generalised as regards all public sector authorities at a later stage.
Nevertheless, I understand the breadth of feeling within this area and take note of the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, regarding yet another annual report, along with other concerns. However, I think it would probably be better for me to consider whether there is a more appropriate way of achieving the objectives to which noble Lords have referred.
Baroness Hamwee: Before the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, responds to the Minister's comments, I ask the Minister to understand--from the tone of his response I am sure that he does understand this--that many of us within this Chamber and elsewhere hope to see the Government build on the good example that they set in relation to this issue--with all-party consensus--in the Greater London Authority Act. It does not seem to me a complete answer to say that the matter is being considered in regard to all public sector bodies. We now have an example in legislation of how to deal with the issue.
Following their consultation the Government may propose changes to the Greater London Authority Act. They may also propose changes to what will be the Local Government Act 2000. In the context of the new powers that are proposed for local government--which are welcome--it is important to set down provisions with regard to the importance of equality, which are generally accepted, on the understanding that peripheral points arise with regard to the mechanisms that may be established. That is an important statement for the Government to make and it is one that we should like to see on the face of this Bill when it reaches the statute book.
Lord Harris of Haringey: I am grateful to my noble friend for his reply. However, I am not entirely satisfied as yet with what he has said. It is pleasing that the Government accept the importance of the amendments that have been proposed. It would be helpful at a later stage to be given an indication of how the Government feel that it would be appropriate to deal with these matters. I accept the points that have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, as regards the precedent contained in the Greater London Authority Act. That precedent was much discussed in amendments that were tabled in Committee and at every stage of that measure in this Chamber. As a result of that, a provision emerged which distilled the objectives which we were all trying to achieve. Those objectives apply just as much to individual London boroughs as to individual local authority districts and individual county councils. I should have thought that the same principles could be included in an amendment to this Bill which would achieve those objectives.
I was interested to hear the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, on annual reports. I accept that a proliferation of annual reports does not necessarily achieve the purpose of informing the local community. However, if local authorities were required to comment on this matter in their other annual reports, or in an appropriate annual report, that would meet the requirement.
I note also what my noble friend has said about a consultation paper that is to be produced that concerns a wider duty with regard to public services in terms of the matter we are discussing. That would clearly be valuable. However, I submit--I hope that my noble friend will consider this--that local government is central to the delivery of so many public services in a local area. The whole philosophy of this Bill concerns community leadership. We shall debate the principle of community planning and other matters at a later stage. If there is to be the expectation that local government will offer community leadership, there should be an expectation--perhaps in advance of the wider consultation--that local government should promote equal opportunities and create harmonious race relations. Whatever form that provision may take, it should be included on the face of the Bill. However, having listened carefully to what my noble friend has said, I shall withdraw the amendment at this stage. I look forward to hearing from the Minister on this point at a later stage in the passage of this Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.